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If a young child HATES books, don’t force him to read! Some parents and therapists are surprised at this advice because we all know how beneficial reading is for kids, but let me tell you why forcing a toddler to read is counterproductive. When you force a toddler to participate in a truly non-preferred activity, particularly during the first few therapy sessions when you’re just getting to know each other, he’s not going to learn anything other than YOU are someone he DOES NOT LIKE because you make him do things he HATES. Therefore, he may begin to HATE you too. But as a speech pathologist, you really don’t have to do things a toddler doesn’t like, especially in the beginning. During those first few sessions concentrate on building your relationship, or as I like to think of it, developing a special friendship with a child.
I don’t understand why a therapist would want anything else. I want the child to like me. When a child likes you, he wants to be near you. Being near you is necessary because he has to be near you to learn ANYTHING you want to teach him.
When he’s running away from you, he’s not learning. When he’s hitting you, he’s not learning. When he’s crying, he’s not learning. When he’s doing anything except looking at you and listening to you and engaging with you, he’s not learning. In order for that to happen, I have to give a child something he likes, rather than something he HATES. If you continue to insist that a toddler read a book with you and he doesn’t like it, he’s naturally going to do everything he can to resist.
Ignoring you, moving on, running away, hitting, biting, or just plain checking out. As we’ve already established, NONE of those behaviors facilitates learning. So it’s YOUR job, as the therapist or a parent, to make this activity something he doesn’t want to resist. Establish a child’s participation with you by playing together doing whatever he loves FIRST and then gradually move toward including books as a part of your therapy session.
I have some super tricks that will make reading much more fun for many of our little friends who don’t necessarily HATE books, but who don’t exactly love them either. I’ll be including those tips as I present my list of books. I can list here in a post. Choose CARDBOARD books for toddlers and preschoolers. To avoid that unfortunate but very common occurrence, I use only cardboard books! Consider when you read with a toddler.
Pick a time when a child is more likely to participate. If a child is all wound up, it’s probably not a good time for a book. If a child needs to run around to release some pent up energy, let her do that first, then read. If a child is hungry, feed him first, or better yet, let him eat while you read. Choosing better timing is all it takes for some children to begin to like books. In sessions with busy kids, I try to pull out a book when a child is seeking comfort or is settling down. This is why reading at bedtime is so popular.
It’s also why reading during a therapy session can be a challenge. Sometimes we’ve worked hard to rev up a child’s little system to get him to the point where he can talk and perform, and then we switch gears and expect him to listen to a book. This can be too passive for many of our little friends, especially when they don’t really understand the words they’re hearing. We’ll have to tweak when and how we present the book to make it more active and more meaningful during therapy. I hold toddlers in my lap all the time to read books. Body on body contact is regulating and calming for young children, particularly when a toddler has a tough time sitting still. Holding him or her will also help build that all important social and emotional connection with a child.
For toddlers who don’t like to be held, sit across from them and hold the book facing them to show them the pictures. If you’re having a hard time establishing joint attention while reading, meaning that the child no longer includes you in reading once he sees the book, sitting across from him will make it much more likely that he remembers you’re still there! Sometimes I even place a kid on a low coffee table or couch. Do your best to maintain control of the book. If a toddler gets upset and won’t let you hold the book, do your best to stay engaged and making yourself a necessary part of the activity without forcing him into a meltdown.
No child learns language during a power struggle, so do everything you can to avoid them! When a child won’t look at books unless she’s in total control, reading is not a shared activity. Until a child lets you participate and listens to you talk about what she’s seeing, there’s no language component to this activity. A child has to hear words before she learns to understand words. A child must understand words before she learns to say words.
You can make an argument for providing books as a valuable solo activity for all children. However, for a toddler with a language delay, there’s no real language teaching going on unless you’re helping a child learn to link meaning with the pictures they’re seeing. Upon closer inspection for some of these children, you may realize that she isn’t really even looking at the pictures. She may flip pages hurriedly or hold her face close to the page. Back up and teach this child to play together with you and include you in her activities. Now that we’ve covered those basics, let’s move on to my list of Great Books for Toddlers!